Rex remembered in song and dance
The steady stream of patrons inside the Little Theatre on Tom Redcam Drive Tuesday night spoke volumes about the pride of place that Ralston Milton ‘Rex’ Nettleford holds in the heart of Jamaicans. It was the annual celebration of the life and legacy of the late co-founder of the National Dance Theatre Company, staged by the Rex Nettleford Foundation, aptly titled ‘Remembering Rex’.
A special feature of this year’s celebration was a tribute to NDTC founding member and former dean of the School of Dance at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Barbara Requa. Her contribution was described as “immense and immeasurable”. Clearly, the years have been kind to the dignified Requa, who has long hung up her leotards but has lost none of her fluidity and grace. She was gracious in her acceptance speech and even ‘held court’ post-show as she accepted congratulations from friends, acquaintances, and former students.
‘Remembering Rex’ also paused to acknowledge two outstanding students who are this year’s recipients of scholarships from the foundation. But the night truly belonged to Rex. From the performance of 1978’s The Crossing by the University Singers and the NDTC to the finale, Gerrehbenta, from the NDTC, the Little Theatre bowed in tribute to this national patriot, cultural ambassador, international scholar, dancer, teacher, orator, critic, and mentor.
With seamless transitions, the dances and vocal performances all exuded their own drama and peculiar brand of humour or sobriety as the culture of Jamaica was masterfully displayed by those talented nymphs and vocalists whose artistry was a reflection of those on whose shoulders they stand. Not surprisingly, most of the pieces on display were choreographed by Nettleford, and it is still up for debate as to whether those were his personal favourites.
Leading the charge for the dancing segment was The Prayer, choreographed by Arsenio Andrade-Calderón and performed by talented dancer Kerry-Ann Henry, whose passion for dance was intensely communicated through her movements. Choreographers Monika Lawrence and Patsy Ricketts worked their magic with The Potter – the spirited piece presented by the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble, which provided mystique, while proving quite mesmerising. From creation to the final revelation, interspersed with the fascinating dance of the cloth, the energetic ‘nude’ dancers paid homage to the Creator and the Potter, and it was during this routine that there was ‘a moment’. At approximately 7:52 p.m., a larger-than-life portrait of a benevolent-looking Rex Nettleford floated, as if from heaven, on to a white screen at the back of the stage, even while the dancers continued their routine, seemingly oblivious to the moment.
NIGHT OF SONGS
But it was also a night of songs and the University Singers, too, were on point and delivered choral theatre at its best. Their Good News proved questionable at best as the soloists took unto themselves the roles of Disney villainesses as they skilfully engaged in a very proper ‘tracing match’ and shade-throwing, which evoked much laughter from a delighted audience. The message was clear: everybody’s talking ’bout heaven, but (a good for you) not everybody’s going there.
The energy, fun, and frolic of the University Singers continued post-intermission, and the selections included Wash Day, The River Ben Come Down, Elena, Roas Breadfruit, Yellow Yam, and Charley Marley, all choreographed by Nettleford, and all of which delved into the culture of the island.
Quite appropriately, bringing the curtain down on a night of remembrance was the ancestral dance Gerrehbenta, which derives its name from two of the ancient rites still practised in Jamaica - the ‘gerreh’ from Hanover and Westmoreland, and the ‘dinkimini’, which utilises the benta, a traditional musical instrument, from St Mary. The dance is said to evoke ancestral spirits usually associated with wakes, known as dead-yard ceremonies, and includes the character Horsehead, from jonkonnu, as well as the Yoruba shawling dance known as etu.
Professor Nettleford, arguably the Caribbean’s most eminent intellectual, was born on February 3, 1933, in Bunkers Hill, Trelawny. He died on February 2, 2010 Washington, DC, United States.